By Joel Norman of Sports Heaven
It’s a quiet time. Baseball is the only one of the four major sports in action.
Despite starting in April, the season is only half finished. The dog days of August and the doldrums of September are still down the road.
Three months from now, the next World Series Champion will be crowned. Until then, the sports world will wait.
With so much time until a major sports team wins it all, let’s look back at the four reigning champions and see if any of them will repeat.
MLB: Kansas City Royals
After winning the American League Central in 2015 with 95 wins, the Kansas City Royals captured their first World Series in 30 years. If they repeat, they’ll be the first MLB team to do so since the New York Yankees won three straight World Series from 1998-2000.
Winning the division won’t be as easy this season. Following MLB action on Monday, the Royals are 11 games behind the first place Cleveland Indians and 8.5 games out of a wild card spot.
Injuries haven’t helped the Royals’ pursuit of a third straight World Series appearance. Mike Moustakas hasn’t played since late May, Alex Gordon has only played 73 games, and Lorenzo Cain just returned after missing 25 games. Prospects have kept the Royals from bottoming out, but won’t be enough to get the Royals into the playoffs.
Starting pitching is the Achilles’ Heel of the Royals.
Yordano Ventura and Edinson Volquez have disappointed with 4.88 and 4.70 ERA’s respectively. Chris Young has pitched himself in and out of the rotation with a 6.72 ERA despite a superb 9.6 K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings).
With the Indians rolling because of superb starting pitching and health, the Royals are in trouble. Kansas City is 18-36 in road games and has 27 remaining games at opponent’s ballparks. Repeating as world champions is out of the question.
NFL: Denver Broncos
If things look bleak for the Royals, the Denver Broncos will need a Hail Mary to become the first Super Bowl repeat champion since the New England Patriots in Super Bowl’s XXXVIII and XXXIV.
Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset as winner and left the Broncos with a quarterback conundrum. After Manning’s retirement, backup Brock Osweiler signed with the Houston Texans.
To replace two players that were both sky-high in stature in ability, the Broncos signed Mark Sanchez and drafted Paxton Lynch. Sanchez is inconsistent, with 86 touchdowns but also 84 interceptions thrown in his five-year career. Lynch is unproven as a rookie and slipped heavily in an already weak quarterback draft class.
Quarterback isn’t the only questionable position offensively.
While both of their running backs have returned for 2016, the Broncos will need more production from them. Despite both CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman both getting over 150 carries last season, neither topped 900 yards. In fact, neither has ever rushed for more than 863 yards in a season.
Offense isn’t the Broncos’ only problem.
Last season’s number one defense lost defensive end Malik Jackson and linebacker Danny Trevathan this offseason to free agency. Linebacker Von Miller returned after refusing to play under the franchise tag, but the Broncos did not do enough to replace Trevathan and Jackson.
Because of all of the changes to their roster, the Broncos have a slim to none chance at repeating. However, this same franchise won Super Bowl 50 with a quarterback that threw more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (9) last season. Sanchez has already done that twice in his career. Maybe the Broncos will repeat after all…
NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins
When it comes to dynasties, the NHL is the league with the most recurring winners. Since 2009, the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, and Pittsburgh Penguins have combined to win seven of the eight Stanley Cup Finals.
However, none of those teams ever won championships in back-to-back seasons.
The Penguins look to become the first repeat champion since the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997 and kept it in the Motor City in 1998. On paper, the Penguins retain nearly all their star players and role players from their championship squad. With a mix of scoring and speed, the Penguins embody a type of new-age hockey that is quickly defining champions.
However, three obstacles could get in the way of the Penguins’ title defense.
It all starts with the power play.
It was hot and cold in the playoffs and it was average (18.4, 16th in the NHL) in the regular season. The Penguins roll out Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Patric Hornqvist on their top unit, yet none of them scored double digit goals on the man-advantage besides Crosby (10). Pittsburgh must light the lamp more next season when its opponents takes penalties to repeat.
Another obstacle that could befell the Penguins would be injuries.
Malkin missed 25 games last season and has missed at least 13 games every year since 2013. The Penguins adapted to Malkin’s injury and were able to form the infamous “HBK” line by moving center Nick Bonino onto Malkin’s line of Kessel and Carl Hagelin. If Malkin and another superstar like Crosby or Letang misses significant time in 2016-2017, the Penguins will struggle to get out of the first round of the playoffs.
The final obstacle that threatens every championship team is the championship hangover.
Overconfidence and lack of hunger hurt all teams seeking a repeat at eternal glory. If head coach Mike Sullivan gets fired during the season, all bets are off. The Penguins have won three Stanley Cups by making an in-season coaching change. However, the odds of that happening in back-to-back years are slim to none.
NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers
Similar to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Cleveland Cavaliers have not lost many pieces from their championship squad. Bench warmers Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov have left, but the core remains. Any team with LeBron James leading the way has a legitimate shot at an NBA title.
Problem is, King James is exhausted. This June, James played in his sixth consecutive NBA Finals. That means that James has played from late October to early June every season (minus 2011-2012, when the NBA season did not begin until December 25).
Even if James remains healthy for all of 2016-2017, the Cavaliers still aren’t guaranteed a repeat. Kevin Love is supposedly the third best player on the Cavaliers behind James and Kyrie Irving, yet he failed to score more than 10 points in all but two games in the Cavaliers four games to three victory over the Warriors in the Finals.
Despite Love winning a title with the Cavaliers, his name continues to pop up in trade rumors this offseason. Should he return to the Cavaliers, he will have a much reduced role. Cleveland can shop gim for younger talent or to simply shed salary. However, Love could bounce back and finally discover his true role with the Cavaliers.
The title-defense season depends on Love.
James has shown that he is still capable of the unthinkable even as he continues to age, but he cannot do it all for an 82 game season in addition to a potential 49 more games in the playoffs. If Love proves he’s still a superstar in 2017, watch out. The Cavaliers could become the first NBA team to repeat since James lead the Miami Heat to titles in 2012 and 2013.